New research studied the effects that an upbeat emotion can have on decreasing inflammation in the body.
Hint: It isn’t happiness.
Innumerable studies have long been conducted on the debilitating effects that negative emotions can have on our health—wreaking havoc on our bodies, over-taxing the nervous system, and increasing inflammation—leading to a host of diseases and even untimely death. While not all negative emotions are bad for you—fear, for instance, can be a vessel for risk-taking and creativity—it is evident that shame, guilt, greed, etc., have no place in our happiness-fueled, healthy lives.
Fortunately yoga and meditation help us live happier, healthier lives with more vitality—and as the old adage goes: laughter is the best medicine. Mindfulness and gratitude have shown that we can replace toxic feelings or negative emotions with something positive to boost our overall happiness quotient. But there isn’t a ton of scientific evidence aside from extensive research on happiness and empathy, that proves the health effects of more exhilarating emotions like awe—until now.
A new study published earlier this year in the journal Emotion, enlisted college freshmen at the University of California, Berkeley to participate in whether the sensations that arise when feeling awe-struck had any impact on their health. The key test for this study was using saliva samples to detect a molecule called interleukin-6 (IL-6), a known cause of inflammation in the body. Therefore it could by hypothesized that low levels of IL-6 equates to less inflammation and optimal health.
Ninety-four Berkeley students were recruited to fill out questionnaires about how frequently during the past month they felt various positive and negative emotions, like hostility, enthusiasm and inspiration. As anticipated, when students’ moods were checked against their IL-6 levels, those who had experienced more positive emotions generally had lower levels of IL-6 than classmates whose moods were more frequently sour.
Researchers next enlisted 119 students to complete more elaborate questionnaires about their normal dispositions and the extent to which they had recently felt seven specific emotions: awe, amusement, compassion, contentment, joy, love and pride. While happy moods were collectively still associated with low IL-6 levels, the strongest correlation was with awe. The more frequently someone reported having felt awe-struck, the lower the IL-6.
Awesome! What’s more is that feeling sensations of awe is easily within reach—even for the stressed out and over-scheduled types. Think of all the things that give you goosebumps: an epic sunset, your favorite song, a moment in a movie that makes you well up with tears. Awe is available to us whenever we need it. And now that we know those tingly feelings are actually really good for us, it’s a reminder to stop and look up, pause in wonder and marvel at the beauty that surrounds us, and listen more carefully.
Andrea Rice is the Practice and Community Editor for Wanderlust Media. She is also a freelance writer, editor and yoga teacher. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, SONIMA, mindbodygreen, and a variety of online publications. You can find her regular classes at shambhala yoga & dance center in Brooklyn and connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.